Monday, January 23, 2012

Silence Rock

Maybe its the time of the year.  Maybe its the cloudy, soggy weather.  Maybe its the New Moon cycle. Maybe its just being tired.  Regardless, it seems like no one I know is getting much done on anything these days.  I'm not getting much done either.  Still, there's always something going on...

Ski-Bowl Delights
Saturday, I finally got to taste some of the "new" powder up on Mt. Hood.  Unfortunately, most of it has been hard-packed by fellow sliders and rained on, but the top was still a little powdery.  What was more surprising, actually, was the size of the crowd.  We arrived late (3:PM) after a slow morning and tail-dragging departure.  The parking lot was a virtual moonscape of unplowed and cratered snowpack with cars parked all over the place.  I figured the parking guys were getting their own ski-on because there were none to be seen and there were new arrivals clogging the main driveway with their turn signal indicating that they wanted a parking space... which was actively being used by someone who was still removing snow clothes and had yet to stow their gear.  Ridiculous.  That may work at CostCo where the aisles are wide and loading your car can take a couple of minutes.  There was barely room to get in/out of a spot much less drive around a spot-lurker, and unlike CostCo, no one is in a big ol' hurry to load & go after skiing all day.  Oi!  So close you can see skiers on the slopes, but you just can't get there.  By the time we got to the lifts, it was past 4, and the night-ticket folks were joining the group at the base.  The lines were long, but they were well managed.  I concluded that the parking attendants were helping shepherd skiers, because there were 2 or 3 lift attendants for each lift instead of the usual 1.

After all the waiting, the snow was fantastic.  Fast, but with a touch of powder so you could turn.  No ruts, but no soft powder-piles to land on either.  Basically, it was dangerous and fast enough to hurt yourself, but responsive enough so you could push your limits.  We played until about 9 and headed off the mountain.  The drive back down was peril-less, but the snow line had moved further downhill.  Its been snowing up there on and off ever since, so we're hoping for another night-run on Wednesday.  Pray for a low snow-line. :)

just above the snow line
looking south off Hwy26
Silence Rock
On the way up, we made bets on where the snow-line would be, and I guessed Silence Rock.  I should probably explain what or where that is.  When the ski-bus drivers haul a load of kids up to the mountain, the screaming and shouting from 40+ kids finally reaches head-ache stage around the same point in the drive.  This point is on Highway 26 after entering the Wilderness Area but before reaching Government Camp (aka "Govy" to the locals).  There is a large mound on the right side of the road as the highway turns left around a canyon (the picture on the right was taken just after passing Silence Rock).  At this point in the ski-bus drive, the driver yells "silence rock!" and all the kids are expected to be completely silent as the bus passes this mound of earth.  The silence can be broken after passing the next road sign sign.   Now, as adults driving up to ski, we see Silence Rock as our opportunity to be silent in respect of the mountain, and of the beautiful nature in which we find ourselves.

So, when I was able to mount some enthusiasm, I fiddled around with the bus.  I re-routed the engine harness so there is less stress on the temperature sensor cable.  Then, I played around with the temperature sensor and I think I was able to get is re-seated.  I've re-filled the coolant bottle, pumped coolant by squeezing different hoses and bled the air bubbles out.  I've also determined that the running pressure for the coolant system is 18psi.  Instead of driving around and looking for puddles, I'm going to go about this a little differently.  Using my Mity-Vac, I'm going to fill the vacuum reservoir bottle with coolant, and create 18psi pressure in the system through the bleed port (I'll take a picture while I'm testing and post it later).  If the system can hold 18psi, I've fixed the problem.  If not, then, there's a leak and I need to find it.  I hope I was able to resolve it.  If not, at least I didn't discover it as I was trying to get back for more snow.

Last, I just learned that my middle school science teacher passed away after a short illness.  He was a Sgt Major drill instructor with the Marines before he taught science at the military school.  He really knew how to keep 25 boys in line when surrounded by chemicals and other equally interesting (and dangerous) things.    While gruff on the exterior, his heart was gold, and he only wanted the best and brightest possible futures for all of those left in his charge.  Rest in Peace, Sarge.

More next time, and thanks, as always, for following along.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reality Strikes

As optimistic as my last few posts were, there just had to be a reality check.  Unfortunately, it came in the form of a coolant leak on Monday, so the trip to the mountain for MLK Day was scrapped.  I'll explain that today.  I haven't gotten around to looking at the problem, but I have a theory.  I'll hit that at the end.  First, a quick snow update from Saturday and the state of C's concussion.

Saturday Sliding
looking up the Multipor lift
The 6 of us (Boo plus boys in one car, me plus my boys in another) hit Mt. Hood Ski Bowl on Saturday for some afternoon and night skiing.  C, of course, couldn't slide because of his recent concussion.  He spent the day in the lodge with Boo's younger son (K2) playing on a laptop, playing chess and by the end of the day, making a snow-fort outside the lodge.  C's concussion symptoms are completely gone and he's back to his old self again.  The snow on Saturday was probably the best I'd seen all season.  Fluffy, yet quick, so you could get some good speed going, but if you took a spill, you had a nice soft powdery landing.  The lifts and slopes were not that busy.  In fact, look at this picture.  There was no one on this lift except us.  Nothing but empty chairs extending into the falling snow.  Even the run under the chairs was empty.
The cafe and Beer Stube were busy, though, because of the NFL playoffs.  I found that a little amusing, actually: drive 2 hours from home through chain-required conditions to watch a football game on tv.  I admit I watched the end of the Saints-49ers game while having a pint, but I spent the rest of the day and night on the slopes, eating up that powder until my legs couldn't take any more.  It was fantastic.  I'll be up there again this next weekend.  Maybe I can get the bus fixed in time... which leads me to the reality check....

My Outlet Flange History
If you've been reading this blog a while, you'll remember the troubles I've had with the coolant outlet flange on the front (pointing towards the front of the bus is "front") of the engine.  This flange attaches to the cylinder head where the valves live and allows for the passage of coolant from the engine out to the heater core, the radiator and the coolant bottle.  There's also a little coolant temperature sensor in there that connects to the engine harness that I've had all my troubles with.  I don't recall how much I complained about the difficulty in getting the coolant sensor in-place and the harness clicked into it.  It was a real PITA.

Flange Drives Tank Design
This area at the front of the engine is also the cause of the modification to the fuel tank.  The flange sits just above the bellhousing where it connects to the bus frame and it juts into the space where the fuel tank is.  So, getting your hands in there for maintenance can be challenging.

Flange Placement
sensor for ALH TDI engine
Last, the way the coolant sensor is set in place in the flange is a bit strange.  The sensor is about an inch long with the 4-prong plug at one end and a bronze post at the other.  The bronze post extends into the passing coolant, collecting temperature readings.  Between those 2 ends is where the trouble lives.  First, an O-ring needs to be placed around the wider throat of the sensor as it sits against the opening in the flange.  Then, the sensor is held tightly in place while a "U"-shaped plastic holder (U-clip) is set into the slots in the flange.  Getting all of this to work is much easier when the TDI engine is in its more native placement.  In my bus, this 3-handed job is performed while hanging over the top of the engine with your hands slipped between the engine and the fuel tank.

When I swapped out the original harness for the borrowed one, I had challenges getting the everything right.  The coolant sensor was a real bear.  I had leaks.  I broke a U-clip, lost another one.  Lost a washer.  Then lost another one.  Finally, I got it all together, and I was able to drive around eventually.  When I swapped my original harness back in, I had some challenges getting the harness to reach properly.  I didn't really think about what the impediment was, I just worked it and worked it until I had enough cable to make it, and then clicked it together.  My test drive seemed fine, but I ended up low on coolant.  Later, there was what looked like water on my garage floor, but I chalked it up to rain.  Once I saw the puddle form under the bus at the gas station, though, I knew there was a leak, and the ski trip was off.

Cause Theory
What I didn't think about was the stress I placed on the sensor trying to get the cable to reach.  I believe that effort affected the sensor such that the U-clip no longer is holding the sensor flush against the flange.  I think the stress of the cable effectively pulled the sensor out enough to allow coolant to escape.  The sensor location is the epicenter of the leak, so this theory does seem reasonable.

I'll be digging into this tomorrow night after work (and a trip to the gym).  I hope the U-clip is undamaged.  I plan to remove the sensor, re-seat it, re-clip it and test for leaks.  I need to re-route the harness to eliminate the stress as well.  I wish I had a trip report instead of another "guess what I found" post, but that's what happens on this adventure.  Thanks for following along...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Still Waiting for Snow

My schedule for hosting my boys changed a little bit this NewYear.  Rather than having them on Tuesday nights, my boys asked that we switch it to Wednesday nights to make room for C's basketball practice schedule (Tue/Thu nights).  They figured we could get in some night skiing on Wednesdays.  Clearly, they have become accustomed to a packed schedule.  We didn't go last night, and today's post is all about why.

Tues-day Bruise-Day
C has played basketball a couple of seasons.  He says he's not very good.  He understands the strategy, he just doesn't have the mechanics yet.  He's crafty and has good lateral movement, so he could be a decent player if he wanted to.  This season started the first week of January, so they're really only just starting.  On this most recent Tuesday (Jan10), he arrived at practice early.  A few other boys had as well, so they grabbed a few basketballs and started practicing their shooting.  According to C, he was dribbling for one basket and one of the other boys started defending him.  C chose to dribble to a different basket.  When he went for the layup, the defending boy had sprinted to get to him and crashed into C, taking him into the wall and then the floor.  He felt dizzy, and continued to feel dizzy for about half of practice.  One of his friends helped him up and they walked over to a bench where C sat until he didn't feel dizzy anymore.  At this point, he practiced with the team.  He shouldn't have, but done is done.  Fortunately, no additional contact was made.
C tried school from his mom's house yesterday and signed himself out of school before lunch.  He called a neighbor and was shuttled home.  His mom dashed home from work and took him to a doctor.  "Moderate Concussion," he said. "Limited activities on a 6-day recovery plan. 200mg Ibuprofen every 4 hours."  So, obviously, skiing is out for now.

Mon-day Fun-day
Based on my simple math skills, 6 days from the day of the injury would be Monday.  MLK Day.  It's also the one-year anniversary of the weekend I started crashing at my folk's place leading up to my divorce.  Neat.  Sounds like a party is in order.  It seems the weather-gods are going to smile upon us too.  Based on the projections, we should be getting consistent snowfall starting on Saturday and extending into early next week.  Can you say "fresh pow-pow"?  Now, that's a party.  But wait, there's more.... with the bus running, and new glow plugs in the mail, MLK Day could be the first run to the mountain in the bus.  Can you feel the excitement? :-)  If all goes to plan, we'll play at Mt. Hood Ski-Bowl next Monday.

If C recovers more quickly, or if we can determine that higher altitude has minimal effects on a concussed brain, I may take Boo, her boys, T & C up to Timberline and hang out in the Main Lodge with C on Saturday.  Then, at least Boo, Boo's boys and T can get some sliding in.  C and I can play ping pong, drink hot chocolates and read by the fires.  Still beats a day of watching the rain in the valley.

That's it for today.  The bus is doing great.  I have the glow plugs on-order, like I mentioned, and I need to buy and add some coolant.  Overall, though, he's basically ready to play.  So am I.  We just need C's concussion to mellow out and we'll hit it.  He's already tired of waiting :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Return to Service

Rather than spend the weekend playing in the snow with Boo, we both spent our respective weekends in the valley.  Today's post will be more technical than usual, since I spent all weekend on the bus.  Consider yourself warned :)

Glow Plugging Away
The glow plug is a mystery to non-diesel folks.  I know it was to me, when I first got into diesels.  I figured it was just a diesel version of a spark plug with some fancy lingo around it to confuse people.  Actually, it is core to the difference between a diesel and gas engine.  A gas engine depends on a spark to create a small explosion in the combustion chamber (by setting the vapor on fire), creating force to drive the piston down, and create movement.  A diesel engine depends on compression for this function.  This sounds a little strange to the newly inducted, I know.  Now, gas engines need compression too, but not nearly as much.  In fact, when you start losing compression in a gas engine, you suffer "blow-by", but the engine will still run, while you slowly start polluting your oil with un-burnt gasoline.  An early indicator is a smell of burnt oil (rings going bad) or your dipstick smelling like gas. Once a diesel engine's compression falls too low, or should I say once the pressure created within the combustion chamber falls below a certain level, the engine won't fire at all.  So, enter some chemistry....

Pressure is a function of temperature and the vapor contents.  The presence of water in air, for example, reduces the vapor's ability to compress.  A low temperature of the vapor increases its ability to compress, or should I say decreases the amount of pressure created within a cylinder.  If the temperature remains sufficiently high and constant, pressure is equally high and consistent for a static vapor make-up (atomized diesel fuel, cooking oil, bio-diesel, eg).

glow plug image borrowed from
This is where the glow plugs fit into this picture.  They are little combustion chamber warmers, but hardy enough to withstand the pressure and heat of an active engine. Once the ambient temperature falls below about 40*F, the pressure created within the combustion chamber is insufficient to create an ample burn for the engine to run consistently.  As the temperature drops from there, the engine becomes, eventually, inoperable.  The glow plugs create the heat necessary to warm the chamber so the engine can start and run until the combustion warms the chambers directly.  Then, they shut off.

With this "science" in mind, we can better understand why it was so important for me to get the borrowed harness (without a glow plug circuit) replaced with a fully functioning harness.  I completed that in my last post.  On Saturday, I discovered that 3 out of 4 plugs in my engine were bad.  I had lots of old plugs, but only one good one, so I popped it in and hoped for the best.  Since it was over 40* in my garage, I wasn't too worried about the plugs.  Turns out I was right, though starting on the mountain may be interesting if I don't have 4 operable plugs.

Okay, So Why Won't It Start?
Aside from pressure, a diesel engine needs something pressure-combustible within the vapor.  As I indicated earlier, this ranges from diesel fuel, home heating oil, bio-diesel and vegetable cooking oil.  I've heard of other alternatives, but I'd stay with those 4 (and home heating oil only if you aren't afraid of getting ticketed in the US - its a road tax aversion thing).  So, I have temperature, I have compression, so I must be missing the fuel.  Since I had the entire system open, I probably failed to get all the air out of the fuel system.  I attack this in 3 steps: priming the lines to/from the filter, priming the pump, and priming the injectors.

Priming the Lines
With a Mity-Vac, simply apply vacuum to the fuel line that runs from the big fuel filter to the Injection Pump (IP).  Block the return line from the pump to the filter.  The filter is large and holds a considerable amount of fuel, so you can find yourself second-guessing whether you have it right.  I have a small clear filter between the tank and the main filter so I can see fuel enter and move through.  This little $1 filter extends the life of the spendy stock filter too, so I encourage others doing this too.  Once you have fuel collecting at the Mity-Vac bottle, connect the IP feed line back to the IP and start priming the pump.

Priming the Pump
IP image borrowed from
At the pump, remove the little return line which comes from the injectors.  Apply vacuum with your Mity-Vac to that little nipple until fuel collects in the bottle.  Do this carefully, with low-pressure vacuum.  You don't want to damage any pump innards (read: rubber seals) by applying too much vacuum at once.  I found keeping it under 5 pounds was sufficient.  Once you have fuel in the bottle, re-connect all the lines and move on to priming the injectors.

Prime the Injectors
Now, you have fuel at the pump and the pump is full of fuel.  All that's left is making sure there's no air in the hard and return lines between the injectors and the IP.  With a wrench, loosen the nut at the end of the hardlines where they connect to the injector.  Do this for all 4.  I completely loosened mine, but just "cracking" it should suffice.  Now, start cranking the engine.  Keep cranking until you see diesel fuel start to pop out of the loosened injector connections.  Once all 4 are popping, you're air-free.  Tighten it all back down and the engine will start.  Mine did.

I took a test drive over to Boo's house to prove out all of my handiwork.  This is a few miles, including a highway on-ramp/off-ramp and some city-ish traffic driving.  The new tires felt fine, and I couldn't even hear the noise of the studs over the racket of the engine and rattling windows.  The bus drove well, reached 185* and effectively leveled off there.  The heat works (though the defroster air was a little funky), and I think we're back in business.  I need to top-off the coolant, and double-check the oil, but I think the bus is now "back in service".  Now, to plan the first trip to the mountain, and the next "real" road trip: Dark Star Orchestra...

As always, thanks for following along, and I'll post more as there's more to post about...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Holidaze, Hood and Harnesses

Its been 10 days, and I've been on vacation for most of them.  I'l hit the highlights, and describe my final engine harness resolution.

Mt Hood Xmas Eve
The miniature house painting, like so many projects I undertake, took longer than I described in my post before.  In fact, it took as long as I told folks in person: over 40 hours.  It still needs to be shipped, so it totally missed the holiday window.  Once its been delivered, I'll post a picture.  My dad says that the Three Kings actually arrived on the 12th day of Christmas (Jan6), not on the actual birth-night like the songs imply.  So.. I'll stretch that so I can have the finished product in-hand by Jan6 and still meet Christmas expectations.  Its all in how you frame it...

As I write this, I've been to Mt. Hood to go sliding 13 times since the start of the season.  That is more than all of the times I've ever gone in all my previous years combined.  On Christmas Eve and the 26th, I took the boys to Ski Bowl.  After nearly a month without fresh snow, the conditions were really very good.  Ski Bowl has snow-making machines like the resorts in Vermont, so the sub-freezing weather allowed them to make snow almost every day.  This left an inch of top-powder on top of the packed base.  The mountain was practically empty on the 24th and it was almost as quiet on the 26th.  These were possibly 2 of the best days we'd had to date.
Mt Hood from Mid-Reynolds
top at Ski Bowl
We went up to Ski Bowl again on the 27th, but it rained.  I was practically soaked through by the top of the first lift, so I only took a couple of runs and called it a day.  We took the next 2 days off, so our legs could recover, and we had family holiday parties to attend.  Our last trip to Mt Hood was Friday Dec30 to Timberline.  Mt Hood was experiencing blizzard conditions, making the drive a little challenging for some, and the sliding a little interesting for us.
Sunset over Ski Bowl Lodge
The drive to Government Camp didn't require chains, but I pulled over into the rest stop/Summit ski lift parking lot and had them on in a few minutes.  All those early trips gave me lots of chain-up practice.  It also gave me some needed snow-driving practice, which came in handy.  We found a front-row parking spot, set the car in gear (leaving the hand-brake off), and stepped into some of the worst weather I've experienced since moving to the West Coast.  In the time it took to get our gear on I had an inch of snow in my back seat and over an inch in my trunk.  The car was completely covered, and we were all cold to the skin.  We hauled our equipment to the day lodge and set to sliding.  Timberline had at least 16" of fresh powder on the ground and more was pouring out of the sky.  Visibility was about 15' and foggy through goggles.  Still, the sliding was slow with the fresh powder, but that encouraged more direct paths downhill. The spills were all the more epic.
I avoided a young woman who was sliding very slowly down the center of the trail (in an outstretched jumping-jack pose), but ended up hitting the drop-in at the top of Thunder with my body out of balance.  I dropped about 10 feet hit a mogul, bounced, hit another mogul and then cartwheeled twice before landing flat on my back with a thud.  If the 16" of powder weren't there, I would have been hurt.  Instead, I caught my breath, checked my extremities, jumped onto my toe-edge and finished the run.  Good times, and more to be had for sure this season.

wires don't go to the same pins
So, I bought a replacement harness.  It wasn't the right one.  I found the part number on the ECU plug and bought a replacement off of eBay.  It looked right, but once I unwound the tape and pulled the dust cover off the back, it was clear that it wouldn't work either.  The picture here shows how the wires don't route to the same pins.  So, even though the part number was right, the implementation was different enough to make the part useless to me.  One more thing to sell.  Great.  So, at this point, I got a little creative.  I looked at the pin-holes that click into the ECU on both the old plug and the replacement.  It looks like the inside of each of those little holes contain a metal clip.  I figured I probably damaged or bent the clips with my connectivity testing.  Next to each square-ish hole is a tiny slot.  I found a tiny paperclip and started working the holes where I could see the clips. I did this on and off while watching football, so I'm not sure how much time this took, but it was more a case of move slow, than bang-it-out.
plug underside
Once the holes looked more like the plug I bought, I took the harness downstairs.  First, I tested the loaned harness with the OBDII trip computer.  I had only one code: P038 - Glow Plugs.  I pulled the loaned harness out, shot every plug on the original with Di-Oxit5 and strung it into the engine and ECU.  Quick test with the OBDII computer and I only had the one code.  Hazah!  I tried to start the engine and it wouldn't start, but its because I hadn't fully primed the fuel circuit.  I'll be completing that this week, and I should be able to drive the bus again.

Well, that's like 2 or 3 posts in one.  There's so much sliding season left, I expect to have lots of outdoor pictures and experiences to share over the next few months.  It seems like the bus is almost road-ready again after a 3 month span.  I plan to prime the fuel circuit this week and he'll be ready.  When he drives again, he'll have a completely refreshed fuel tank, a fan on the intercooler, an operating glow-plug circuit, a freshly painted exhaust and studded snow-tires.  Wow, when I spell it all out, its been a very productive 3 month lay-over.  Like every other time the bus goes back into service, I'll start a list of things I want to work on the next time.  If it goes well, I won't plan for another run of projects until May when the ski season is over but camping season hasn't started yet.  As always, thanks for following along, and I'll post again soon-